MANSFIELD -- Azia Bradley, a soon-to-be first-time mom, was shocked when she discovered that she was pregnant with not just one child, but two.
Now five months pregnant, Bradley said she's been fortunate to have many resources come her way, including Richland Source's Community Baby Shower.
The 25-year-old Mansfield native and current resident of Akron was one of hundreds to attend Richland Source's inaugural event on Saturday.
"This is a great event," she said. "One of the best events I've been to in Mansfield."
The baby shower, held at the Idea Works building on West Fourth Street, was birthed from an idea sparked during a Richland Source staff meeting, after the laudable success of Reporter Brittany Schock's series on infant mortality, "Healing Hope." Her series was dubbed the No. 1 solutions journalism story in the country by the Solutions Journalism Network.
SJN offered Schock $10,000 in grant funding to continue her project, and part of the specifications of the grant was that the funding be used to promote community engagement.
"I asked everyone at our staff meeting to help me brainstorm community engagement activities," she said. "I can't even remember who suggested it at this point, but we landed on a baby shower because it was a way to take something sad like infant mortality and turn it into a positive -- celebrating moms and babies and helping them get a healthy start in life."
It's not every day that a news outlet will "make" the news, but as Schock pointed out, the shower is all about community engagement.
"Of course as a news organization, we want to engage with our readers, and having so many of them come to our new location and making those face-to-face connections is huge," she said. "We want our community to know that we are active participants and that we're not scary journalists; we're your neighbors and we care about where we live and making our community a better place, just like you do."
Planning for the event began in April and involved many community partners.
"We've had so much support from the community -- easily between 20-30 businesses and organizations have come on board either to participate in the shower as a vendor, providing financial assistance, donating baby items, or some other service/assistance," she said. "I've gotten calls almost daily in the past month or so from people wanting to donate baby blankets or volunteer or get involved somehow, and it's incredibly encouraging to have that support from the community."
The Idea Works building was flooded with families eagerly perusing the various booths belonging to 19 different community organizations. By visiting the vendor booths and participating in the educational classes, attendees earned a "punch" on their punch card. A completed punch card awarded them a gift bag filled with goodies donated from the community.
Samantha Jewell and fiance Johnathon Eldridge of Mansfield were looking forward to learning more about the many resources available. They're expecting a baby boy Jan. 6.
"I've never been a father before so I'm ready to dive in and get as much experience as I can here," Eldridge said.
Bucyrus couple Kaycee Miller and Cris Bilger are expecting a baby boy Jan. 8. Asked what they found most helpful at the shower, they said all of the different information that was provided.
OhioHealth, CHAP (Community Health Access Project), Catalyst Life Services and the Mansfield Area Y led mini educational classes on lactation, CHAP's home visiting program, early childhood health screenings and baby boxes.
Mothers could leave with a baby box if they completed baby box education.
The event also featured a pampering station with massages and a raffle with prizes ranging from larger items, like strollers or car seats, to gift baskets with gift cards and other baby items, as well as some pampering items for mom.
Schock said the response from the community has been overwhelming.
"I don't know exactly what kind of numbers I was expecting, but it wasn't this," she said. "We've had to adjust our plans more than once to accommodate such a large crowd. But even though it's been a lot of work, this is exactly what I hoped for -- the more people these organizations can reach, the better."
Organizing a baby shower is quite the anomaly when it comes to news reporting, but Schock doesn't mind.
"The thing that blows my mind about this whole event is that I'm actually allowed to do this," she said. "I fully realize that this is way outside of my job description as a journalist, and I'm kind of loving it, even though it can be awfully stressful at times. I feel very lucky to be in a position to help people and help my community, and lucky to work at a place that has taken this crazy idea and run with it. The whole process has been extremely rewarding."